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Archive for the ‘Universal (International)’ Category

Lori Nelson
(August 15, 1933 – August 23, 2020)

Lori Nelson, has passed away at 87. She was born Dixie Kay Nelson. Her family moved to Hollywood when she was four. Soon after, she was crowned Little Miss America.

In 1950, Ms. Nelson signed a seven-year contract with Universal-International. Her first film was Bend Of The River, followed by Ma And Pa Kettle At The Fair and Francis Goes To West Point (all 1952). In 1953, U-I put her in Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire. She appeared in two Audie Murphy pictures, Tumbleweed (1953) and Destry (1954).

In 1955, she did Ma And Pa Kettle At Waikiki, Revenge of the Creature, Roger Corman’s Day The World Ended and I Died A Thousand Times, a remake of High Sierra (1941) — which has already been remake as Colorado Territory (1949). Underwater! was released in 1955, though it’d been shot some time earlier. She was loaned to Howard Hughes and RKO for that one. She’s also in Pardners (1956), one of the last Martin and Lewis pictures, Hot Rod Girl (1956) co-starring Chuck Connors and Howard W. Koch’s Untamed Youth (1957) with  Mamie Van Doren. What a great batch of 1950s cinema.

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Directed by Edward Dein
Starring Eric Fleming, Kathleen Crowley, Michael Pate, John Hoyt, Bruce Gordon

Kino Lorber has announced an October release for the terrific Western/Horror mashup Curse Of The Undead (1959). The story of vampires in the old West, it’s a better picture than you’d expect it to be — pictures like Billy The Kid Vs. Dracula (1966) set the cowboy/monster bar pretty low. U-I excelled at both Westerns and monster movies in the 50s, and Curse Of The Dead succeeds as both.

Ellis Carter’s cinematography is really nice on this one, and it should look terrific on Blu-Ray. Can’t wait to get my hands on this thing!

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John Saxon
(August 5, 1936 – July 25, 2020)

John Saxon has passed away at 83. He was a very good actor who never got the recognition he was due. He’s terrific in The Appaloosa (1966), where he easily outdid Marlon Brando. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for that one.

He also did the Westerns The Unforgiven (1960), Death Of A Gunfighter (1969) and Joe Kidd (1972), Mario Bava’s The Evil Eye (1963) and the Bruce Lee picture Enter The Dragon (1973). He stayed busy on TV, too.

Posse From Hell (1960) was one of the U-I Audie Murphy pictures produced by Gordon Kay. It’s worth a second look. Saxon’s really good in it.

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Directed by Budd Boetticher
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg
Screenplay by Steve Fisher and D.D. Beauchamp
Story by Niven Busch and Oliver Crawford
Music by Frank Skinner
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Film Editor: Virgil W. Vogel

Cast: Glenn Ford (John Stroud), Julie Adams (Beth Anders), Chill Wills (John Gage), Hugh O’Brian (Lt. Lamar), Victor Jory (Jess Wade), Neville Brand (Dawes), John Day (Cavish), Myra Marsh (Ma Anders), Jeanne Cooper (Kate Lamar), Mark Cavell (Carlos), Edward Norris (Mapes), Guy Williams (Sergeant)

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It took Budd Boetticher a while to find his cinematic sweet spot with stuff like The Killer Is Loose and Seven Men From Now (both 1956). But he made some terrific pictures in the meantime. The Man From The Alamo (1953) is one of the best of those. It’s a short movie completely filled with action — from the attack on the Alamo to a number of fist fights to the climactic wagon train scenes. It’s all handled perfectly, and when you learn this was a shoot plagued by injuries, it’s easy to see why.

 

John Stroud (Glenn Ford) is the one man who left the Alamo after Travis drew his line with his sword, and he’s been labeled a coward. We know he’s not. Stroud sees the chance to help other families make their way to safety as a way to clear his name — and get his revenge on Wade (Victor Jory), the leader of a band of mercenaries who have hired on with Santa Anna.

We get an early version of the usual Boetticher hero — an outsider obsessed with a personal mission, a character Randolph Scott played to perfection in pictures like The Tall T (1957). Glenn Ford does a good job here as a man who’s lost everything, even his good name. Not many movies have us rooting for a character so clearly burned out and cynical. That’s where Ford really comes through, always showing enough of the decent family man to keep us from writing him off. It also keeps us from wondering why Julie Adams would be interested in him.

Victor Jory is Wade, the soldier for hire responsible for the death of Ford’s family. Jory is a great bad guy, and he’s at his absolute slimiest best here — though it’s hard to top him in South Of St. Louis (1949). He’s given some sweaty, sneering closeups that’ll make your skin crawl. 

Julie Adams is so beautiful in Russell Metty’s Technicolor — she was perfect for Universal International’s bright, colorful Westerns of the 50s. And she’s always able to pull something out of an underwritten part. Neville Brand is terrific, too. Chill Wills can be a bit grating, as usual.

Back to Russell Metty. He was a master, and his Technicolor work here is incredible. In a picture that takes place largely in rocks and sand, he manages to find enough of a color palette to create plenty of vibrant visuals.

And that’s what makes this new Blu-Ray from Mill Creek such a treat. It’s a gorgeous transfer of the original material, and the movie really benefits from the boost in definition, a solid improvement on the old DVD (which was nice to begin with). The color is really terrific. Mill Creek has paired it with Robert Rossen’s They Came To Cordura (1959), which also looks splendid. A pair of movies like this, looking this good, at such a great price — you can’t get too many of em. Highly recommended.

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Directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor
Screen Play by Sherman L. Lowe, George Plympton, Basil Dickey, Jack O’Donnell
Original Story by Oliver Drake
Photography: Jerome Ash and William A. Sickner
Starring Dick Foran, Leo Carrillo, Buck Jones, Charles Bickford, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Lon Chaney, Jr., Noah Beery, Jr., Jeanne Kelly, Glenn Strange, Roy Barcroft

VCI is prepping another Universal serial for Blu-Ray release, 1941’s “million dollar super serial with a million thrills,” Riders Of Death Valley

While I doubt they spent that much on it, it certainly has a million-dollar cast — the likes of Dick Foran, Buck Jones, Charles Bickford, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Lon Chaney, Jr., Noah Beery, Jr., Glenn Strange and Roy Barcroft!

For the Blu-ray, VCI will use original 35mm material. A still gallery and two-chapter commentary from yours truly will be included. This is a cool serial and should be a really nice release.

A few years later, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Glenn Strange would take each other on again in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), with Chaney as Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, and Strange as Frankenstein’s monster.

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Kino Lorber’s three-Blu-Ray Audie Murphy Collection is gonna be a good one. I’m not sure what I’m more excited about, that I get to do commentaries for two of ’em, or that these films are coming out, period.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray of Night Passage (1957) is one of the best-looking Blu-Rays of a 50s Western I’ve seen, and these should look terrific, too. Universal International’s Westerns from this period were beautifully shot — and they’ve taken pretty good care of them.

The Duel At Silver Creek (1952)
Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Audie Murphy, Faith Domergue, Stephen McNally

Don Siegel’s first Western, and first film in color, is a fun, fast-paced little picture with gorgeous camerawork from Irving Glassberg. It’s also got a terrific supporting cast — Hal Mohr, Walter Sande, Frank Wilcox, Harry Harvey, Lee Marvin (his first Western), etc. It has fun with the conventions it tosses into the mix.

The story goes that Siegel’s cut of the picture was barely an hour long. The prologue tacked onto the picture to pad out its running time works perfectly. Siegel and Murphy would work again on The Gun Runners (1958).

Ride A Crooked Trail (1958)
Directed by Jesse Hibbs
Starring Audie Murphy, Gia Scala, Walter Matthau, Henry Silva, Joanna Moore

Audie’s an outlaw reformed more or less by circumstance. Walter Matthau is a lot of fun as a judge Murphy gets mixed up with. Gia Scala and Joanna Moore look terrific.

Jesse Hibbs was a good director for Murphy; they’d already had great success with To Hell And Back (1955). This was Hibbs’ last feature before embarking on a busy run (about a decade) as a TV director. Harold Lipstein shot it in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor.

No Name On The Bullet (1959)
Directed by Jack Arnold
Starring Audie Murphy, Charles Drake, Joan Evans, Warren Stevens, R.G. Armstrong, Whit Bissell

Over the years, U-I got pretty smart with their Audie Murphy movies. They learned to give him a strong supporting cast, and they built movies around his strengths as an actor. (I don’t think he was anywhere near as limited as some say he was.) No Name On The Bullet (1959) might be the best example fo the latter approach. It’s well-written by Gene L. Coon, later of Star Trek fame, and he gave Murphy some terrific lines. Jack Arnold’s no-frills style is a perfect match for the material.

There’s nothing better than a little low-budget movie where everything clicks to create something much bigger than it should’ve been. This is one of those movies. (On a personal note, this is one of the pictures that launched my obsession with 50s Westerns.)

The set gives you the three movies on separate discs, contained in a slipcover. Trailers and commentaries are included (I’m doing the first two.) Highly recommended. Now, when will someone get around to Tumbleweed (1953) and Seven Ways From Sundown (1960)?

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There’s a lot going on these days, which is probably a huge understatement. At the same time, within the confines of each of our homes, there’s not much going on at all. I hope everyone is safe, healthy and watching a lot of movies. Thought I’d bring up a few things.

Apache Drums (1951) is coming to Blu-Ray from Sidonis out of France. This is very good news. It’s a terrific picture.

RIP, James Drury.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been asked for quite a few movie recommendations, and it’s been a blast to suggest Westerns and crime/noir movies to my homebound friends. It makes me feel good to know that yet another person has come to appreciate Man In The Saddle (1951) or Armored Car Robbery (1950).

Saw Day Of Triumph (1954), a low-budget, heartfelt, but talky story of Christ. It had a great cast — Lee J. Cobb, James H. Griffith (as Judas!), Joanne Dru (as a lovely Mary Magdalene), Burt Mustin, Robert Cornthwaite, Barbara Billingsley, Mike “Touch” Connors and Ralph Moody. The minimal sets are pretty effective, but Burbank is a long way from the Holy Land, in about every possible way.

Completed the commentary for Kino Lorber’s When The Daltons Rode (1940) last week. Due to coronavirus closings and stuff, we recorded it at the engineer’s home. We had to take a break when a train came through town — the tracks run behind his house. Ironically, it was the train robbery sequence.

Hang in there, folks!

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Kino Lorber has announced their first volume of Western Classics for June — When The Daltons Rode (1940), The Virginian (1946) and Whispering Smith (1948).

When The Daltons Rode offers up about 30 minutes of constant riding, shooting and just general mayhem in its last reels, all courtesy of the great Yakima Canutt. Amazing stuff. Whispering Smith was tailor-made for Alan Ladd — his first Western and his first color film. The Virginian puts a couple of my favorites in the same movie — Joel McCrea and William Frawley.

Working on the commentary notes for When The Daltons Rode has been a lot of fun, especially watching all the stunts again and again.

I love the first volume of sets like this, since it comes with the promise of more!

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Directed by Edward Dein
Starring Eric Fleming, Michael Pate, Kathleen Crowley, John Hoyt, Bruce Gordon, Edward Binns, Jimmy Murphy, Helen Kleeb, Jay Adler

If somebody’d told me way back when I started this blog that Curse Of The Undead (1959) would be coming to Blu-Ray, I would’ve told ’em they were nuts. But low and behold, Kino Lorber has announced it.

Curse Of The Undead is a real oddball in the 50s Westerns corral — a Western and vampire picture nailed together. It somehow stays fairly true to the conventions of both genres, and it’s a lot of fun.

Michael Pate is terrific, and Ellis W. Carter’s cinematography is perfectly suited to the material. He was a wise choice, since he’d done Universal sci-fi pictures like The Mole People (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Deadly Mantis (1957) and The Land Unknown (1957, in CinemaScope) — along with 50s Westerns like The Texas Rangers (1951) and A Day Of Fury (1956).  It should look great in high definition.

Not sure when this is coming, but I’m really glad it is.

Oh, and Reynold Brown’s poster art is really cool.

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VCI Entertainment has announced the upcoming Blu-Ray release of two terrific Buck Jones serials from Universal — Gordon Of Ghost City (1933) and The Phantom Rider (1936). Gordon was the first of six serials Buck Jones would do for Universal.

Both come from director Ray Taylor, who did a number of serials, including The Green Hornet and Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe (both 1940). Early in his long, prolific career, he was an assistant director for John Ford.

Both are sourced from original 35mm fine grain material — and both will feature liner notes from yours truly.

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